Out of options, Ross connects at Salisbury Junior guard leads Gulls into ESAC tourney

February 25, 1993|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

SALISBURY -- At Old Dominion and Allegany Community College, there wasn't enough playing time. At Oklahoma's Phillips University, there wasn't enough scholarship money.

His options were dwindling when Dameon Ross went to Salisbury State in September 1991. Realizing that he wasn't going to experience Division I glory, he set about reviving a collegiate career that consisted of a handful of garbage-time appearances and two idle seasons.

The hard times are a memory now. When the Sea Gulls go to Frostburg State for the Eastern States Athletic Conference tournament tomorrow, Ross, a junior guard, will be trying to win the Division III scoring title and get Salisbury State (16-8) its third straight berth in the NCAA tournament.

"Look, when I came here I just wanted to show people I could still play," Ross said. "I was tired of being in limbo."

Ross was 6 feet 2, 175 pounds when he went to Old Dominion in 1988 to play for Tom Young. Many of his points for DuVal High in Prince George's County had come inside, and Ross admits that his skills were limited. He made a few appearances as a freshman, and never practiced as a sophomore.

"We were hoping he could make the conversion to point guard, or even two guard, but Dameon was in over his head," said Young, who joined the Loyola staff on an interim basis last month. "After one year, it was obvious he was going to struggle."

Ross left Old Dominion after three semesters, and went to Allegany in the fall of 1990. Bob Kirk has one of the premier junior-college programs in the East, and Ross wasn't ready for the competition there.

"I was under the impression I would start," Ross said. "There were five other good guards there, and I wasn't in shape when practice began. We were at each other's throats, and I didn't expect that."

He never played at Allegany, and left after a semester.

"When I left Allegany, I knew my options were running out," Ross said. "I visited Phillips [a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics power], but they ran out of scholarships. My mom and dad were willing to help me out there, but we were all getting frustrated. Time was running out."

Ross was playing a pickup game during an Ocean City vacation in July 1991 when he ran across Salisbury State's Andre Foreman, who was one season away from becoming the all-time scoring leader in Maryland and NCAA Division III history.

After learning about their up-tempo style, NCAA aspirations and the presence of forward Kevin Cromer and point guard Bret Grebowsky, friends from his two years at DeMatha High, Ross was sold on the Sea Gulls.

Foreman, who will begin playing in Australia next week, was the national Division III Player of the Year in 1991-92, but it was the addition of Ross that pushed Salisbury State to the NCAA quarterfinals. He averaged 24.2 points and burned the teams that concentrated on Foreman.

Now, Ross is averaging 28.1 points, within hailing distance of the national-leading 28.8 of Drew's Dave Shaw. Even if he's still a year away from national Player of the Year consideration, Ross is getting extra attention, and not necessarily enjoying it.

"I miss Andre [Foreman]," Ross said. "I like to score, but I don't want to hear 'He's the man.' All people see is the points you're scoring. They don't see the other things you do."

Four years after Old Dominion, Ross has grown to 6-4, 185 pounds, and he's a Division III force inside and out. He's made 48.2 percent of his shots and 38.8 percent of his three-point tries, leads the state in steals (2.8 per game) and is second on the Sea Gulls in rebounds (7.3) and assists (4.4).

"His shot selection has improved, along with the rest of his game," Salisbury State coach Ward Lambert said. "He doesn't always make the right pass, but his ball-handling has gotten better. He's hustling more, playing a little better defense. He's really into the game mentally. Dameon is one of the few players we have who'll offer suggestions during a game.

"Of course, everyone sees the points first. There's more pressure on him to score. If he plays badly in a big game, we're probably going to lose."

Ross struggled at Frostburg State on Feb. 6 and at Lincoln on Saturday, Salisbury State's only losses in its past 15 games after a 3-6 start. In tomorrow's (8 p.m.) ESAC semifinals, the Sea Gulls play the host Bobcats, and the winner probably will get top-seeded Lincoln in Saturday's championships.

In Salisbury State's past two games at Frostburg State, Ross shot 2-for-16 from three-point range, but he wants another chance. He's overcome worse starts.

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